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MacArthur Grants awarded from Chicago to Kenya, India and Mexico

In May 1 2006 phoprovided by Southwest Organizing Project viJohn D. Catherine T. MacArthur Foundati  members nonprofit Southwest Organizing

In a May 1, 2006 photo provided by the Southwest Organizing Project via the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation members of the nonprofit Southwest Organizing Project in an immigration march in downtown Chicago. On Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, is was announced that the Chicago group that prevents foreclosures in southwest Chicago is among 13 winners of the 2013 MacArthur Foundation grants for nonprofit organizations. T (AP Photo/Southwest Organizing Project via the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, David McDowell)

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CHICAGO — A group that fights in India’s courts for the rights of pregnant slum-dwelling women, an organization that helps struggling immigrants in Mexico and a project that prevents foreclosures in southwest Chicago are among 13 winners of the 2013 MacArthur Foundation grants for nonprofit organizations.

The awards of $500,000 to $1.5 million announced Thursday recognize the groups’ importance and impact, said MacArthur President Robert Gallucci, “and we hope our investment will help ensure that they continue to thrive and to increase their reach in the future.”

This year’s awards go to groups in the United States, Kenya, India, Mexico and Ecuador.

The Chicago-based foundation doesn’t accept nominations for its biggest awards to nonprofits. Instead, organizations that have previously received MacArthur support are considered if they’ve reached a crucial point in their development, shown strong leadership and achieved stable financial management. In addition, the awards honor exceptional creativity and effectiveness.

Leaders of the Southwest Organizing Project in Chicago learned in June that they were under consideration when a MacArthur Foundation staff member visited the group’s cramped office and made the surprise announcement.

“We were all very quiet and kind of startled and thought it was wonderful,” said Jeff Bartow, the group’s executive director. The project will use part of its $750,000 award to move to a new office in one of the neighborhoods where the group is rehabbing vacant homes and helping families become homeowners.

Subprime mortgage lenders targeted the city’s southwest side before the housing crisis, leaving a trail of foreclosures and vacant properties, Bartow said. The Southwest Organizing Project works with churches, parents and community groups to prevent foreclosures and gun violence. The annual budget of the 17-year-old organization is roughly $1.5 million, Bartow said.

“Home ownership is still important to families because it remains the single best way to build financial stability in the United States,” said David McDowell, a senior organizer with the group.

Mexico City-based Sin Fronteras will use its $500,000 MacArthur Award to purchase permanent office space. The group works for the rights of migrants and refugees who come to Mexico in search of a better life.

Another winner, the New Delhi-based Socio Legal Information Centre, provides free legal help to India’s poor with a focus on health care for women. The organization plans to use its $750,000 award to buy an office for its reproductive rights unit, to build a reserve fund and to provide health insurance for its staff.

“I can’t believe how pregnant and lactating mothers are treated in this country,” said Dr. Colin Gonsalves, director of the center, speaking on a video on the MacArthur Foundation’s website. “I think it’s part of the general culture of neglect and disregard for the poor. And when you come to poor women they are on a much lower rung. And when you come to poor women who are vulnerable, who are pregnant, then I suppose they get the worst treatment of them all.”

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is a private, independent group that hands out about $230 million in grants annually. It’s known for its so-called “genius grants,” $500,000 no-strings-attached fellowships that have gone to hundreds of people since 1981.



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